£30 - £49
Kimpton Fitzroy London, Corner of Guilford Street and Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BE
Neptune is the dining room of Kimpton Fitzroy London hotel, a grand Empire-era pile overlooking Russell Square that outdoes St Pancras for gothic drama. With high Victorian being about as fashionable a design trope these days as a noughties feature wall, Russell Sage Studio has gone for an almost mid-century Tiki look – rattan-backed bar stools, dusty pink walls, boldly patterned fabrics – although you can still spot plaster cherubs peeking from behind the fronds of tropical greenery like orphans in a Victorian ghost story.
Neptune comes courtesy of chef Brett Redman and stylist Margaret Crow, who were a big hit on the east London party scene with The Richmond pub and its oyster happy hours. They’ve stuck with the seafood theme here, although with half the main courses involving meat from the wood-fired grill, the menu is not exclusively fish-focused.
A swimmingly fresh seafood platter accompanied by soda bread and seaweed butter was the best thing we ate, not least for the zip and zing of a trout tartare and mackerel escabeche; we were grateful to the waiter who took our crab legs away to be cracked by the chef so we didn’t miss a flake of the snowy white meat – a typically thoughtful touch from staff who showed consideration throughout the meal.
Nothing else we tried had such shimmering flavours; monkfish with white asparagus, brown butter and chicken sauce, and turbot with fennel, courgettes and an olive-oil hollandaise, were competent rather than compelling, while a plate of grilled red prawns had lost their firm texture, if not their sweet taste. There’s also a short vegetarian menu and, to drink, a wine list of natural and low-intervention wines – another individual touch at a restaurant that brings a welcome flourish of glamour and personality to Bloomsbury.
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£30 - £49
54 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LW
While the bar for London tapas has been mightily raised in recent years, it’s done nothing to dent the popularity of old-time stalwart Cigala. Wines built for long lingering lunches are a big reason for its success, with bags of choice on the Spanish-led list and the sort of kindly mark-ups that are never likely to go out of fashion. Gleaming linen and cream walls lighten up the corner site, while Jake Hodges’ kitchen dishes up reliable renditions of grilled sardines in garlic, parsley and lemon, Basque-style baked crab, or squid blasted furiously on the plancha with mojo verde and guindilla peppers. Regional hams and olives, paellas for two and a compact selection of mains (perhaps hake with prawns and cockles in green sauce) complete the menu, although there’s no sign of the titular langoustine. Functional service gets the food delivered, but you’ll be glad of straight-talking wine notes.
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£30 - £49
54 Red Lion Street, London, WC1R 4PD
Readers are already warming to this ‘great, cosy steakhouse’ – a newcomer to meat-heavy Bloomsbury scene that is getting top reviews for its knowledgeable service and terrific food. The ‘expert’ in question is main man Daniel Veron, who has been in the business of butchering and grilling pampas-reared beef for five decades. His menu majors in ‘cooked to perfection’ steaks – rump, rib-eye, fillet and sirloin, served individually or as a mighty quartet on one plate. He-man ‘parrilladas’ (mixed grills) are enough for two, and the kitchen also sends out international specials ranging from beef milanese topped with a fried egg to chicken suprême steeped in whisky and lemon. Start with empanadas, salmon tiradito with guacamole or aubergine escabèche, and round off with chocolate tart or passion fruit mousse. To drink, there are some beefy Argentinian numbers among the list of international tipples.
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£30 - £49
51 Lamb's Conduit Street, London, WC1N 3NB
Keenly priced but dripping with top-drawer sourcing, Noble Rot’s one-of-a-kind wine list stems from owners who are also responsible for the titular cult wine magazine of the same name. Its culinary credentials aren’t bad either, with Stephen Harris (of Whitstable’s Michelin-starred Sportsman) consulting on the ingredient-driven menu. Brilliant breads provided by The Sportsman and Mikael Jonsson’s Hedone are perfect as a pre-meal bite with Maldon rock oysters or pristine jamón Ibérico Bellota; then try smoked eel in a light gazpacho or grilled slip sole dressed with smoked butter (more memories of Whitstable). Elsewhere, guinea fowl breast in truffle cream with lettuce and broad beans or Swaledale lamb with spinach and fresh peas showcase serious ingredients for under £20 – pricing that’s in tune with the room’s black ceilings, papered walls and other shoestring trappings. The wine list is stuffed full of rarities and bargains, but staff seem reticent to make strong recommendations.
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£30 - £49
182 Gray's Inn Road, WC1X 8EW
A destination for fans of quirky French opulence, much-loved Otto’s is built on the knowledge and warmth of its eponymous owner – it’s also “fantastic fun”. The interior is a homely mishmash of velvet banquettes, black and white photos, odd statuettes and low-hanging vintage lights, with its biggest draw – two vintage presses (duck and lobster respectively) – displayed centre stage. Pre-order the “not to be missed” canard à la presse, and you’ll find Otto doing the necessary prep over an improvised ice-bucket stove when you arrive. A numbered duck appears for inspection, then returns glistening and golden to be carved tableside and pressed for the glorious sauce. Alternatively, bag a bargain set lunch of scallops with broad bean purée and boudin noir, followed by roast partridge with wild mushrooms and yet more commendable saucing. Puddings such as chocolate praline charlotte often come with a flaming flourish, while Gallic rarities and bargains naturally dominate the wine list at this “French treasure”.
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£30 - £49
28 Leigh Street, London, WC1H 9EP
If it weren't for the legs of Ibérico ham hanging in the window and the meat slicer on the counter, you might think the Norfolk Arms was just another jam-packed Bloomsbury boozer, with its tiled facade, ornate plastered ceilings and prim window boxes. Spanish influences hold sway in the kitchen, with a lengthy tapas menu delivering Padrón peppers, chorizo in cider and Serrano ham croquetas alongside international big-hitters including taramasalata, Scotch eggs with mustard and spare ribs with crackling. The more conventional daily menu also casts its net wide, moving from tiger prawns with guacamole via braised beef cheeks or free-range chicken breast stuffed with black pudding to salted caramel ice cream with toasted sesame seeds. Familiar draught beers are outshone by a sharp globetrotting wine list with plenty by the glass or carafe.
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